Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rail or canal?

If the year is 1832, and you represent the East India Company in the Madras Presidency, and have to arrive at ways and means to improve the pace of movement of goods or the stones required for construction of various buildings, how do you proceed?

Do you try to build more roads or dig more canals or lay railroads? Railway lines not to move locomotives (that had just been introduced in England) but to move conveyance drawn by animals.

What you would need to consider are:

a) the expense of constructing such works

b) the returns they would make

c) the difficulties that might be expected, considering the present state of the arts in that country

d) what are the specific areas where such work should be undertaken so as to derive maximum benefit.

A committee appointed by the Company actually made an analysis and submitted its report to the British Parliament.( See page 679 in this Google Book link).

The conclusion was that a canal network would be more expensive and more labour intensive. It would also require more water, that was already in short supply in the Carnatic. And, a railway line would be a better option.

What about the difficulty in undertaking such work locally? “They are not such as the Natives under European superintendence cannot overcome” was the observation.

And what are the lines that should be carried out first?

It is probable that there are very few lines on which there is sufficient traffic in the Madras Presidency for it to be either profitable to construct works of this kind, or possible to combine the means of internal communication with those of irrigation. The only ones that hold any prospect of these are, 1st, the line from the coast of Tanjore through the towns of Combaconum and Trichinopoly (each containing 200,000 inhabitants), and the great grain districts of Tanjore and Trichinopoly to the province of Coimbatore ; 2nd, the line through Coimbatore along the irrigating channels of the Bhowany river; 3rd, that along the irrigating channels of the Noel, which passes directly through the centre of the same district ; 4th, those of the Ambravatty, which skirts the south-east part of the same district ; and, 5th, the line from near the town of Coimbatore to the Western Canal.

And, the final recommendation:

It seems very advisable to send out a small quantity of rails and waggon wheels, to be ready for any of the works that are constantly executing in the Tank department. About 1,000 yards of light rails, such as are used for temporary purposes in England, and wheels for 40 railway waggons, might be sent out for about 250 1.-\- The rails should be plain square bars, and would cost nothing more than other malleable iron, and would always be available for ordinary purposes. Some other things, such as small cast iron cranes and windlasses, & should also be kept at Madras, and some of the principal stations up the country, for the general use of the department, by which a great deal of money might be saved.

So, had the East India Company decided to go ahead with the canal network instead of the railway lines, Lalu Prasad Yadav might be the Minister for Waterways now.

1 comment:

Shantaram said...

Interesting. And yet, the Buckingham Canal was built earlier in the 19th century to transport rice from Andhra into Madras - especially to tide over a famine, if I remember right. Or maybe that experience led them to forsake further 'canalisation'?